• WisBusiness

Thursday, July 30, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Potatoes on a roll: Spudmobile moving billboard for state's tater industry


By MaryBeth Matzek
You can't miss the Spudmobile when it's driving down the road. With an image of giant baked potato on its side combined with views of a potato field, it's definitely an eye-catcher. And that's exactly what the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association had in mind when it rolled out the Spudmobile last year.

The Spudmobile is a mobile education center dedicated to all things potatoes. And before you question why the educational push for potatoes, it's important to note that Wisconsin is a leading potato producing state. We're not Idaho, but plenty of potatoes are grown in the Badger State. Wisconsin is the No. 3 potato producer in the United States behind Idaho and Washington. (The state also ranks second in the nation for production of processed vegetables.)

A 2014 study from UW-Whitewater found that potatoes contribute $522 million to the state's economy annually. Most of the state's potatoes are grown in Portage, Waushara, Adams and Langlade counties.

The Spudmobile helps consumers understand food production and the process leading up to the quality products they find in produce departments, says WPVGA Director of Promotions Dana Rady. "It's a traveling billboard that's also functional."

The Spudmobile, which visits county fairs, grocery stores and community events, features eight different exhibits that take visitors on a journey from the farmer's field right to their dinner plates in a matter of moments. Rady says the exhibits feature interactive technology so they're not only educational, but fun. There's also an interactive touch table where children can play games and learn just how big the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry is.

Stevens Point area farmer Nick Somers came up with the idea of the Spudmobile during a WPVGA Promotions Committee meeting a few years ago and the committee then worked to bring the project to life. He views it as something similar to the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. "We were looking for new and innovative ways to promote Wisconsin potatoes and educate the public about all the different aspects of the Wisconsin potato industry," he says.

Menasha project gets boost

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. awarded a $500,000 grant to the City of Menasha to help build One Menasha Center, a $12.6 million office building in the city's downtown.

The grant is part of a deal between the city and One Menasha Center developers to create a tax incremental financing district to promote development downtown, with the office tower as its centerpiece.

Faith Technologies will be One Menasha Center's main tenant, moving 350 employees to the site. A Community First Credit Union branch and a dentist will also call the building home. The city also plans to build a 300-stall parking ramp.

More start-up funds

The Wisconsin Portfolio report from the Wisconsin Technology Council and Wisconsin Angel Network shows 113 state early stage companies raised investment capital in 2014, a 31 percent jump from 2013 when just 86 businesses received money from angel investors or venture funds.

Those 113 companies received more than $346 million, nearly three times the 2013 total of $128 million, the Wisconsin Technology Council reported. SHINE Medical Technologies of Monona reported raising the most -- $112 million.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Women In Technology group looks to bridge gap

By MaryBeth Matzek
Working with professionals in the IT industry, Michelle Schuler frequently heard about the lack of available employees and the need to get more girls interested in technology careers. She talked with her college roommate and marketing consultant, Kathy Fredrickson, and Women In Technology, or WIT, was born.

"We wanted to bring women together to talk and collaborate on these issues and I looked around and really didn't see any organizations out there that were doing what we wanted to do," says Schuler, business development manager at Excelion Partners in Appleton. "We're all about empowering women in the technology industry to achieve unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and human connections."

Schuler and Fredrickson, owner of iMark Consulting in Neenah, held two intro sessions to gather feedback and gauge interest and "the response was incredible. We had more than 160 women show up at our first event. Women came not only from the Fox Cities, but also Green Bay, West Bend, the Lakeshore," Schuler says.

WIT's main goals include providing a platform of connections, resources and opportunities for members; create a pipeline of women to fill leadership positions in the IT industry; influence leaders in government, education and IT; and encourage girls and young women to choose technology careers.

"We also want to show that as women advance in their careers that it contributes to everyone's prosperity," Schuler says. "It's all about addressing the talent gap out there."

In less than four months, about 170 women have joined WIT.

"Our members range from IT executives to mid-level and those just starting out as well as college students in our WIT on Campus program," Fredrickson says. "We focus a lot on self-branding and professional development."

Beyond professional development, members are also interested in getting younger girls interested in technology careers, Schuler says. She adds while most people may equate a career in IT with programming, that's not the case.

"There's such a breadth of careers available – project management, analyzing, quality assurance," Schuler says. "There's a huge range of interests there."

While meetings feature speakers on different topics – the September meeting focuses on leading through change -- there's also time for networking and women can also connect online.

"It's about getting the conversation started and bringing women together to share ideas that inspire change," Fredrickson says.

To learn more about WIT, click here. http://witwisconsin.com/

Managing healthcare change

Dr. John Toussaint, founder of Appleton's ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value and a national expert on healthcare reform, is taking his message of how to change healthcare for the better directly to managers in his new book, "Management on the Mend: The Healthcare Executive Guide to System Transformation."

As CEO and president of ThedaCare in Appleton, he took the lessons he observed in lean manufacturing and created a process brining that same innovation to the healthcare industry. After his retirement from ThedaCare, Toussaint became a leading authority and speaker on lean healthcare.

Toussaint, who previously authored "On the Mend," wrote his latest book after observing and assessing organizations making the transition to lean healthcare practices. He says that the ones that were the most successful had senior managers who led by example. In "Management on the Mend," Toussaint outlines how to make lean transformations work and describes how to do it step by step through people in 11 organizations who are doing the work.

Angel network gets new leader

Bram Daelemans is the new director of the Wisconsin Angel Network, the link between the Wisconsin Technology Council and the investor community. WAN operates as an umbrella organization providing services and resources to the early stage investing and entrepreneurial communities.

Daelemans previously was with AquaMost, a Madison-based water treatment start-up, and also served for four years as associate director of Golden Angels Investors, a group of 100-plus active investors in tech-based companies.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Green Bay group seeks to turn vacant armory into indoor farm

By MaryBeth Matzek
A long-neglected building in Green Bay may soon find new life as an indoor farm and agribusiness.

The Farmory, which would be located in an old armory on Chicago Street near downtown Green Bay, received a $50,000 grant recently from the United States Conference of Mayors to help get the project up and running. NeighborWorks Green Bay, a non-profit committed to revitalizing neighborhoods and promoting homeownership, would run the operation, which would grow produce inside the building and then sell it to fund on-going operations.

Noel Halvorsen, executive director for NeighborWorks Green Bay, first proposed the idea in 2013. Since then, NeighborWorks America and the Greater Green Bay Basic Needs Giving Partnership have also backed the project. The next step is gathering stakeholders to put together a final plan on how to run the urban farm and figure out how much it will cost.

"The national grant will really help us to put our arms around the project," he says.

The building was built in 1918 by the Allouez Mineral Springs Company as a bottling plant. After a few years, it closed and stayed empty until a Wisconsin National Guard infantry unit moved in 1927 after their previous armory burned down. The Guard used the 20,000-square-foot building until 1963. Since then, it has sat mostly vacant.

Halvorsen envisions growing a variety of food crops including leafy greens, mushrooms and some other plants year-round in an indoor environment. Halvorsen already connected with Will Allen, who started Milwaukee's Growing Power urban farming project, as well as Riverview Gardens, an urban farm in downtown Appleton.

Besides growing crops, Halvorsen says The Farmory would provide an economic boost to the neighborhood and also serve as a training site to help people learn job skills.

Training center adds on

Operating engineers from around Wisconsin have a new place to go for year-round training. Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a new 108,000-square-foot addition at the Wisconsin Operating Engineers training center just east of Coloma.

Operating Engineers Local 139, the parent organization of Wisconsin Operating Engineers, funded the $10 million project entirely through members' paycheck deductions.

The 400-acre training center is busiest the first four months of the year as thousands of operating engineers from around the state come to improve their skills. The addition's centerpiece is a 51,000-square-foot indoor arena with a sand floor and a roof more than 60 feet in height at the centerline, which means engineers will have the ability to train inside during Wisconsin's winters.

"We'll keep the inside temperature above freezing so our members can run cranes, bulldozers, excavators and the other pieces of heavy construction equipment that we operate, without Old Man Winter getting in the way," says Terry McGowan, president/business manager of Operating Engineers Local 139.

McGowan says the center contributes to the local economy since many of the trainees stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.

Manufacturer plans Northwoods expansion

Great Northern Innovation LLC, a manufacturer of rubber screen media and wear components used in mining and aggregate operations, plans to bring 35 new jobs to Milltown, a small town in northwestern Wisconsin.

The company, which was started by Gabe Feuerhelm just a year ago in Polk County, is leasing a new 22,000-square-foot building and has plans to buy additional equipment to help meet its growing customer demand. The construction project will be complete this fall.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is giving Great Northern Innovation up to $180,000 in state tax credits through 2018. The actual amount of the tax credits is linked to the number of new jobs created.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Effort seeks to bring residency training program to Shawano

By MaryBeth Matzek
Studies show that Wisconsin is in desperate need of doctors – especially primary care physicians. A 2011 report by the Wisconsin Hospital Association estimates there will be a shortage of 2,000 doctors by 2030. That study led the Medical College of Wisconsin, in part, to open two new satellite campuses -- one in Green Bay that opens this fall and one in central Wisconsin, which opens in 2016.

A Shawano-based organization is now looking to help ease the doctor crunch as well. The Shawano Residency Training Program reached an agreement with the city of Shawano last month to turn the soon-to-be vacant Shawano Medical Center into a residency training facility.

ThedaCare will move out of the facility this fall when it opens a new hospital, ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. The Appleton-based healthcare organization worked with the city of Shawano on coming up with a development plan for the 11-acre site.

City Administrator Brian Knapp says a development group led by Todd Schultz approached the city looking to use the site for a training site for doctors.

"Once it's up and running, we estimate it will create about 100 jobs, according to what the developers told us," Knapp says.

Dorothy Erdmann, president and CEO of Shawano Medical Center, says ThedaCare worked with the city to identify redevelopment options for the site.

"In the spirit of our partnership with the city, ThedaCare will essentially donate the Shawano hospital building and about six acres of land to the development in return for releasing ThedaCare of all future liabilities associated with the existing building and land and the development of the property," she says.

Dr. Johnathan Boy, who previously served with the U.S. Army for 22 years and is the project's director of development, says details and specifics are still being worked out about just how the program will work.

Knapp says the group outlined a plan to city leaders that would bring medical students to Shawano to be trained at the residency facility. "Another goal is that it will train new doctors who will decide to stay in the area and practice," he says.

Research award

Two University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty members received a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their work on improving economic development in areas with a large minority population.

Russ Kashian, an economics professor, and Richard McGregory, assistant vice chancellor of multicultural affairs and student success, received the two-year grant for their project, "Building Communities of Color with Minority-Owned Banks: A Racial Equity Proposal." Two years ago, the duo received national attention for work showing the important role minority banks play in neighborhoods.

The new research project focuses on determining best practices for banks to serve disadvantaged communities. Kashian, McGregory and student researchers will review best practices of efficient, socially responsive minority-owned banks across the United States. Another project goal is to identify bank deserts – places ripe for minority-owned bank expansion.

Shopko debuts new brand

Ashwaubenon-based Shopko will roll out a new brand in its 100-plus stores across the Midwest this fall. The new tagline – "The Stuff That Counts" – goes along with a new color scheme that executives hope will create a better connection between the store and its consumers.

The new brand comes as the company plans an aggressive campaign to move into smaller markets during the next three years. Shopko currently has 343 stores in 25 states.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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